Hi Aaron: Yes, that makes total sense. I absolutely thinking a sort of “there but for the grace of God go I” logic subtends the humor in this clip and allows us to convert trauma into laughter.
You are spot on with regards to Bakhtin and the inversion of social norms. I’ve long been interested in the double standard there: who is “allowed” the freedom to invert the norms are whose behavior is policed. Only certain comics seem to be allowed to actually “play” within a carnivalesque space, so I think it’s important to question and critique the paradigm. Debates like this one, and others regarding the so-called “PC” police in comedy, really bring that to the forefront.
Also - thanks for the documentary rec! I will make a point to check it out.
This particular debate wasn’t on my radar. Thank you for posting about the clip, Stephanie. It’s interesting that you bring in Bakhtin here because there seems to be an unequal inversion happening. What I mean is that male comics can invert social codes—take illegal, unethical behavior that victimizes women and make light of it—but Lindy West’s treatment demonstrates that it is much harder for her to invert the gendered hierarchy and still be funny. The debate is positioned as comic vs feminist (not hegemonic comic vs. feminist comic), making it seem that feminist and comic can’t coexist (because that gendered hierarchy is sacred).
I really like this Women in Comedy documentary and show it to my Humor and Media class. (It also addresses “crossing the line”)
Next time I teach the course, I’ll remember to show the debate Bell facilitated as well.
Lisa, you make a very persuasive case here for assessing irony as a textual function, rather than assuming it belongs to the nigh unchartable terrain of tone. Your analysis also works as a response to the ironic racism thinkpiece genre more broadly, of which the WaPo column is only a more recent (and opportunistic) example. Usually these pieces practice a zero tolerance ethics towards the rationale that putting racist tropes into play allows us to hit them where they live, under the presumption of a naive spectator who won’t “get the joke” and might even have her racist beliefs entertained. This certainly does happen to great, critical comedy: Chris Rock retiring his “N****s vs. Black People” routine after it innervated white mouthbreathers, for example. Hence the need for laser precision and control of context, which the Colbert Twitter account failed to secure quoting his Dan Snyder bit, and which Schumer failed to do on MTV here. No doubt many viewers are too exhausted by racism in their everyday lives to feel the need to give Schumer the benefit of the doubt on her “bumpy” journey, to borrow Kathleen’s term. But, to borrow a point argued at the “Irony in Film and Media” panel I saw at SCMS last year, it impoverishes our discourse to assume there’s no possibility of recuperation.
“Even as Regan creates a straight man for himself in this clip, there are actually three positions being articulated in his performance—self, other, and audience—that seem important to understanding how the comedy works.” Well-put!
Thanks for your comment, Lisa - Since tension and release are so closely associated with the genre functions of horror and comedy I always assume that any film that would build up before revealing a shocking image is borrowing from them, if not of those genres as a whole. But certainly other types of films contain shocking images. A very serious-minded drama might generally avoid manipulative tactics with gruesome subject matter, since facing harsh realities directly is more closely aligned with serious/difficult art…it’s an interesting question!
Lisa, you do such a superb job of not only describing Schumer’s signifying mannerisms but also her intent. I have zero doubt that Amy is playing the wise fool (as Sarah Silverman did before her and as others less famous do as well) and to substantial effect. I believe she is very popular in large part because she is widely admired for her creative expression re racism and sexism (of course there are outliers). The MTV scene was unfortunate but is a good indicator of a comic still faltering when in a different “room.” I’m sure she wished she had more time so she could fully express her usual persona when that joke would have done better. But I also have a hunch that she’s feeling her way toward a different persona (I did hear her say in an interview that she is intentionally bringing more of her real self into her stand-up), so this transition time could be a bit bumpy. She is fearless, and I have faith that her wisdom will prevail.
Good food for thought on your last comment! I am suddenly thinking of so many of the comics I enjoy who, if I read transcripts of their act would probably find puerile or worse. But look at our crop now - Bill Burr, Attell, Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, the list goes on. There is much more to what they are expressing and projecting than the words they utter.
I find this aspect of Regan interesting. He claims to be apolitical in his comedy, but I wonder if he just means that he doesn’t talk about politics. He’s such a humble guy that I can imagine him downplaying all this high falutin’ talk we’re projecting onto him. He seems to be holding back some fierce intelligence on some level, but I don’t mean that disrespectfully. Maybe he is just purely authentic.
No doubt intentionally, Kathleen chose a clip that speaks to something she discusses so well: hierarchies of taste in comedy. When he describes marveling at still-lifes (“That looks just like a bowl of fruit!”) and critiquing Picasso (“Pablo, look around you. Does anyone have two eyes on one side of their head?”) he really does show himself to be a layman’s Bourdieu: this is a classic function-vs.-form debate. What keeps the bit from being obnoxious for an effete, pretentious snob like me (i.e. his party interlocutor) is that he is, as Kathleen suggests, somehow able to pinpoint precisely the position between and outside the naive and pure gazes that can be critical of both.
Speaking of function and form: the Oswalt post gives credence to some conventional wisdom about comedy that I imagine isn’t taken at face value around these parts: that comedy works independent of content. Hence, both Attell’s material works regardless of its sexist nature. My hunch is that this is both a bit true and a bit of a cop-out; what is the nature of the relationship between style and content (for lack of a better term) in comedy?